Tory ministers are ‘actively discussing’ extending the £20-a-week boost to Universal Credit beyond April, MPs heard today.
Welfare chief Therese Coffey said she “worries” about people’s debts and keeping a roof over their heads.
It comes after 50 charities and campaigners have warned ending the one-year rise, as planned, would hurl 700,000 more people into poverty.
The Work and Pensions Secretary refused to pledge the rise, which took effect for one year from April 2020, will become permanent.
She has also refused to extend it to more than a million other benefit claimants, mostly disabled.
But she said “I do worry” about people’s financial resilience and debt. She added: “That’s part of what’s driving me in my considerations as we go forward with potential further measures."
She added: "A lot of these discussions on what we continue to do with welfare support are still in active discussion with the Treasury," she said.
"Of course, some people have lost their jobs. We need to keep considering some of the other levels of support we may wish to provide going ahead.
"I do worry about the financial resilience, I'm very conscious about debt challenges."
Ms Coffey was quizzed as MPs heard 6million people are now on Universal Credit - double the number before the pandemic.
Work and Pensions Committee chairman Stephen Timms said it would be "inconceivable to cut everybody’s benefit before the pandemic is over”.
Ms Coffey also hinted she could extend a coronavirus rule that allows loss-making self-employed people to claim benefits.
Usually the level of Universal Credit the self-employed can claim is capped, under a policy called the Minimum Income Floor.
The MIF was suspended due to Covid-19 but is currently due to return on November 12. Ms Coffey said: “This policy is very actively being considered”.
But she batted aside fears about the benefit cap - which has ensnared almost double the number of families it did before the pandemic.
She claimed that despite 150,000 households being affected, it was still a small percentage of claimants overall.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee heard there are now 35,000 to 40,000 new UC claims per week, a return to normal levels.
But 4,500 new work coaches - originally promised “by October” - will start in the first week of November as overall claims soar.
"We are planning for a potential rise in unemployment," Ms Coffey said. "That's why we are doubling the number of work coaches, increasing the number of decision-makers, expanding the number of sites in order to help more people who may need our help."
Ms Coffey admitted efforts to find more Jobcentre space were “going slower than I hoped”.
The Tory minister also refused to promise a long-awaited Green Paper on reforming disability benefit tests will come before Christmas.
“I’m going to try to do my best to get it out before the end of the year”, she told MPs - adding she expected it before April 2021.
Despite this, she revealed she is in talks about how to reintroduce “a limited number” of face-to-face disability benefit assessments.
Ms Coffey said disabled people who are unfairly dumped by firms during the pandemic should resort to an employment tribunal.
Asked how they could be helped, she replied: “Clearly if people think they have been discriminated against they can of course go to an employment tribunal to challenge their redundancy or dismissal. That’s an important part of our overall legislation in making sure people are not discriminated against in that regard.”